A few hours ago I received the following message through my blog from a 2 Kingdom proponent in response to an article of mine that recently appeared on The Aquila Report. After discussing the matter on the phone with this brother, I’ve decided to address a few things.
My response will be limited to the professor’s use of William Perkins along with a corroborating footnote pertaining to Johannes Wollebius.
Here we can find a relevant quote from William Perkins, with an excerpt of that quote immediately below. (Bold and italicized emphases mine throughout article.)
It’s to misread Perkins to infer that in the civil realm it is just the law of nature that is binding upon all men. Instead, we should take Perkins to mean that it is the law of nature that makes the judicial laws of Israel suitably binding upon all men. To miss that point is to miss Perkins’ point. The law of nature establishes the foundation upon which civil laws can and should be applied to all nations.
Perkins distinguishes particular judicial laws that were peculiar to Israel’s commonwealth that don’t have this same quality of nature, which further punctuates his point that morally rooted judicial laws are universally applicable. Example: the brother should raise up seed to his brother. (Johannes Wollebius holds a similar view that distinguishes judicial laws that are grounded in natural law from those that are not.*)
The judicial laws in view were not themselves natural laws, for the judicial laws were both made and given to menunder Moses “according to” what was already instinctive to them. Moreover, these judicial laws were given to the Jews not by virtue of their unique covenant standing before God but in their common created capacity of being “mortal men subject to the order and laws of nature as other nations.” So, the judicial laws are neither to be seen as fundamentally moral nor particular to a covenant nation but rather as having expansive moral import based upon something even more fundamentally primitive in nature, which makes way for their trans-nation application.
R2K wrongly takes the fundamental moral basis upon which judicial laws can be found universally applicable and turns that natural law foundation into the only feature that carries through to the nations. In doing so, R2K denies Perkins’ position, which couldn’t be clearer. It is the judicial laws themselves that have universal judicial application and not merely the instinctive properties of natural law contained within them: “Again, judicial laws… are moral and therefore binding.” Perkins also informs us of the reason why the judicial laws can be universally and morally binding, which is because “they have in them the general or common equity of the law of nature.”
Apropos, for civil magistrates to govern according to the general equity of Israel’s judicial laws (WCF 19.4) is to govern strictly according to those civil laws that were rooted in the common equity of the moral law and not according to the judicial laws that pertained to the land promise or other non-moral aspects of Israel’s society. Yet R2Kers (like the referenced professor) offer an alternative paradigm of governance, which would limit civil magistrates to govern strictly according to natural law yet not according to Israel’s judicial laws that are rooted in natural law. Aside from departing from the nuance of Perkins and Wollebius on the binding moral relevance of Israel’s civil code, one need only consider the historically global results and degeneracy of such governance in order to appreciate the ineffectiveness of natural law in the civil realm. But that shouldn’t be surprising since natural law was never intended to be a model for wielding the sword! The civil laws were given for a reason, and in the minds of men like Perkins et alia the intrinsically moral civil laws are forever binding upon conscience because of their divinely inspired relation to natural law:
Perkinscouldn’t be clearer thatjudicial laws grounded in natureare bindinguponconscience. In the minds of Perkins, Wollebius and those who followed in their footsteps, the OT judicial laws that stemmed from common equity were so inexorably tied together that in theReformedtradition to apply the common equity of natural law was in fact to implement the civil code!Westminster 1647 corroborates with the expectation that civil magistrates ought to punish according to the natural law immorality of blasphemy etc., which is a moral consideration rooted in, yet extending beyond, the law of nature with respect to a revealed civil sanction. (WCF 23.3)
When we come to the American Revision of thestandards, we may not whimsically alter the original import of general equity, which according to historical precedent was inexorablytied both in significance andsubstance to the civil code (as opposed to intending anebulous and uninstructive law ofnature with respect to civilgovernance). In sum, the church historian is wrongeven on his appeal to hisownhistorical sources.
Moreover, the American revision of the Westminster standards supports even the upholding of the first table of the law.
R2K as non-confessional with no suitable alternative:
As a mental exercise one might simply consider – even if civil magistrates needn’t consult OT civil laws in the formation of contemporary civil laws, would the more moderate (and, therefore, less consistent) R2ers argue that civil magistrates oughtn’tever consult OT civil laws that relate to the moral law? If not, then when does it become advisable to do so, when all else fails?
Plain and simple, to be a creedal R2Ker one must self-project either as (a) antinomian in their laissez-faire R2K consistency (e.g. D. G. Hart, Lee Irons and Michael Horton) or else (b) happily inconsistent and arbitrary (e.g. R. Scott Clark). One must either condone – even support! – same sex civil unions or else arbitrarily object to them contrary to their R2K profession of Reformed orthodoxy. Indeed, Natural Law condemns such acts as sinful but not as criminal. The latter assessment is either a matter of Special Revelation or autonomous reasoning. R2K opts for the latter, unaided reason.
Fromtheir respective ivory towers, R2K ethicists offerabsolutelyzeropractical alternativeto Westminster civil ethics. None! For although natural law calls for eternal damnation for the least of all transgressions, it is mute with respect to temporal punishment for even the greatest of all transgressions. If R2ers would for a moment make practical application with their armchair ideology (perhaps put even a morsel of meat on the bones), they might begin to see how arbitrary, inconsistent, fraught with error and just plain useless their abstract kingdom theory really is.
For Perkins, the “substance” of these judicial laws that were given to the Jews binds not just “Jews but also Gentiles…” Contrary to the R2K consensus, these judicial laws are universally binding not because their foundational equity is to be equated with, and reduced to, natural law without remainder, but because these judicial laws expand and complete what is contained in natural law! Indeed, within the judicial law is a foundational general law of nature, but it is the judicial law itself that Perkins claims now binds all men: It is the “judicial laws so far as they have in them… the law of nature…” that are binding upon conscience. In other words, the judicial laws that are trans-binding are those judicial laws that are grounded in a natural law that is common to all men. What mustn’t be missed either with Perkins’ or my redundancy(!) is that judicial laws are morally trans-binding whenever they are founded upon the moral law revealed in nature!
For the more confessionally Reformed, judicial laws are fittingly applicable to all nations precisely because of the instinctive features within them that would be common to all men. For the Westminster Divines, to implement the moral law in the civil realm was to apply OT civil law. What we may not do is project the natural law foundation for judicial laws as being the only feature of the law that remains universally binding in the civil realm, at least not if we want to maintain a Westminster civil ethic. Apropos, bestiality is instinctively and fundamentally immoral. So is same sex marriage. Notwithstanding, what apparently is not intuitive is whether such “private” and “victimless” transgressions should be deemed criminal and, therefore, punishable under the law (hence the spectrum of views within R2K on these practices as well as other deviant ones).
One final word:
Two Kingdom theology has been widely refuted for many years. The most devastating critiques I’ve read are written by RTS professor James Anderson. Dr. Anderson’s critique and follow-up critique are uniquely useful because they demonstrate with analytical rigor how David Van Drunen’s Two Kingdom paradigm, which I believe is representative of at least Escondido if not the rest, is logically incoherent. Dr. Anderson’s two critiques are stated with precise premises and progression of thought that is open to evaluation. Any takers?
Although possible, it does seem doubtful that R2K proponents will consider the riches of Westminster’s civil ethic until they come to grips with the bankruptcy of their owned treasured system. Moreover, on the whole I’ve not found R2K proponents to be rigorous systematic theologians or particularly analytical in their theological approach but rather largely historian types. This may have presented a hindrance for them to critically engage with opposing positions, form counter arguments, and defend their position against internal critiques. Among R2Kers there seems to be a greater tendency to assert rather than argue, which I’ve not found to be a formula for fruitful discussion. I remain doubtful it will become one anytime soon. Even here, note the assertion in the title: “Belgic Confession Art. 25—The Mosaic Ceremonial And Judicial Laws Have Been Fulfilled In Christ.” Now what does Article 25 have to do with judicial laws? The title is simply misleading.
*Johannes Wollebius, draws a similar distinction. “In those matters on which it is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.” Exceptions would apply to “those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state, it has not more force for us than the laws of foreign commonwealths.” The only question is whether kidnapping, homosexuality, or even blasphemy are acts related to the promised land or peculiar to the Jewish state, or are these matters of morality, which would entail judicial penalties biding upon all nations.
Christians and non-Christians alike have grieved this past week while also trying to process ethical questions regarding longtime convicted kidnapper Cleotha Abston who is being charged with abducting and murdering Eliza Fletcher.
Many ethical questions are at hand and convictions run passionately deep regarding how those questions might best be answered through a Reformed Christian world and life view. As strange as this might sound to many, some Reformed Christians have little regard for “worldview type” answers to ethical questions that intrude upon the sphere of civil government. Among the leading critics of a confessionally Reformed view of civil government are those who subscribe to what is called “Reformed 2 Kingdom” (R2K).
R2K is a position that posits that Christians are citizens of the spiritual kingdom of God along with inhabiting the earthly kingdom of this world, which includes as fellow members all people without distinction. R2K has been opposed by those who would define it not as a species of a distinctly Reformed 2 Kingdom model but instead anoffspring of a Radical 2 Kingdom paradigm because of a non-Reformed balance between Scripture and Natural Law. Although R2K rightly appreciates that there is a law of nature that is revealed to all humans in conscience without distinction, the R2K movement is increasingly radicalized by denying Scripture its rightful place of influence in the civil kingdom, which too falls under the governing domain of God. Consider one leading proponent of R2K:
With their Natural Law paradigm, R2K proponents deny that Abston ought to have been executed according to Exodus 21:16 for his first kidnapping. In theory, R2Kers could advocate for capital punishment for kidnapping, just as long as they don’t justify the penalty on the authoritative word of God!
The task at hand:
Questions before all nations include…
Which sins ought to be considered crimes?
What should be the punishment for criminal acts?
How might we best justify our answers?
Civil magistrates are governing authorities established by God for the punishing of wrongdoers. In light of this awesome God ordained responsibility, Natural Law proponents tell us that the Scriptures are neither necessary nor permitted to inform civil magistrates on the details of how to govern society in a manner pleasing to God. (Noodle that one around in your head for a moment.)
For the R2K crowd, God requires civil magistrates to govern society according to the “Book of Nature” alone. It would be displeasing to God for Christians to desire and pray that the general equity of OT civil law be implemented today because capital punishment finds its NT fulfillment in excommunication. (More on that later.)
Because there are no theocracies today, we’re told that civil magistrates may not glean from Old Testament law which sins should be deemed crimes. Nor may civil magistrates seek to determine suitable punishment for criminal acts by searching the Scriptures. Natural Law is exclusively sufficient for the task.
Natural Law and fallen autonomous reasoning:
Natural Law informs us that the least of all sins deserves God’s wrath. Yet R2K proponents also maintain that civil magistrates should not punish some sins at all and all remaining sins should not be punished equally severely. Accordingly, God’s preceptive will is for civil magistrates to determine by the light of fallen nature alone whether bestiality, homosexual acts and abortion (just to name a few sins) are to be considered purely sins, criminal acts too, or simply amoral. (Even if nature were to inform us that these sins should also be illegal, how successful and unified have the nations been over time on deriving a “Natural Theology” of sin, crime and penology to that effect?)
Natural Law began with creation and was operative during the time of Moses through today. Natural Law could not have contradicted Israel’s civil sanctions lest God could deny himself. Furthermore, neighboring nations would not have violated the “Book of Nature” by executing kidnappers according to the God of Israel’s wisdom during the Mosaic era. Accordingly, there’s no reason to believe that Natural Law in any way forbids putting a kidnapper to death today, (lest the cross of Christ has altered Natural Law). Therefore, why think that non-theocratic nations today ought not govern in a way that would have been more exemplary for non-theocratic nations during the Mosaic era? Should we believe that God would be angrier with non-theocratic nations today if they turned to Scripture to try to determine which sins should be considered crimes? Would God be angrier with non-theocratic nations if they were to execute kidnappers according to Special Revelation rather than justifying the loosing of kidnappers after limited incarceration based upon Natural Law inference?
At the very least, if Natural Law has not changed over time and God’s two forms of revelation are complementary and never antithetical, then why should we accept the claim that God would not have the nations adhere to the general equity of Old Testament civil law, which is fundamentally the moral law applied to the civil realm?
Various reasons have been given why we are not to govern society according to OT equity.
Much can be said. First off, the death penalty preceded Moses. Did the death penalty that preceded Moses typify and anticipate the same eschatological manifestation? Secondly, what about the non-capital offenses that were not sanctioned by death? For instance, I can possibly see how OT civil restitution might typify eschatological judgment in a Roman Catholic sense, but how in a Reformed sense in which there’s no doctrine of purgatory that can identify as the anticipatory eschatological manifestation ofOT restitution?
Finally, since the death penalty preceded Moses and was instituted for violations against God’s image bearers, why should we suppose there is no lasting and intrinsic temporal value for such civil sanctions? Why, in other words, should laws that would be so useful for governing any OT society be considered secondary to typology, or so devalued by the cross of Christ that they lose timeless societal value? After all, if every transgression or disobedience received just retribution, then mustn’t civil sanctions still serve a functional societal purpose simply by virtue of all nations requiring governance before and under God? In a word, is biblical typology all that antithetical to biblical penology?
Aside from a false disjunction that would implicitly presuppose that Israel’s civil code and spiritual kingdom are somehow mutually exclusive concepts – the Reformed tradition has always maintained that salvation was always spiritual; hence not all Israel was Israel. Secondly, why should we believe that God’s wisdom and righteous judgment loses practical applicability upon King Jesus’ commissioning the church to disciple the nations under the whole counsel of God? How does the cross make foolish and passé the wisdom and general equity of civil laws that were intrinsic to a nation that would seek God’s wisdom in civil justice? Is the Son of God no less King over the nations than Lord over the church?
We cannot logically deduce that which is not deducible. Nor is it wise to require God to provide answers in the exact places we might hope to find them. That is to come dangerously close to putting God to the test.
Scripture is replete with examples of Jesus not providing answers in the context in which people often sought them. Accordingly, citing Romans 13 in an effort to refute Westminster civil ethics through the employment of a fallacious argument from silence is on par with concluding that (a) Jesus was not a teacher sent from God; (b) Jesus was not good and, therefore, not God; (c) Jesus intended to establish Israel as a political power but failed with the passing of John. (Mark 10:17-18; Acts 1:6,7; John 21:20-22)*
How can “undisputed wisdom… not be made applicable…”? Wisdom not relevant? Something seems intuitively doubtful about such claims. Are the Proverbs no longer applicable because there are no theocracies today? What about the Ten Commandments? Aren’t civil laws the application of moral laws in the civil sphere, after all?
Plain and simple, the Confession does not teach that the civil law “can not be made applicable to any nation today…” Rather, it teaches the very opposite! It teaches that nations are obliged to implement the judicial law as the general equity of it may require.
R2K types misread Westminster Confession 19.4 by saying that the preservation of the general equity of the OT civil code now applies solely to church discipline.
By this miscalculation, when the Divines advocated for the preservation of the general equity of Israel’s civil law, they weren’t allowing for anything like maintaining an equity of civil justice. Nor were they establishing biblical principles of accommodation by affording freedom to rearrange and substitute non-essential aspects of the law such as stoning for hangings (or today, lethal injection and DNA for the principle of two or three witnesses). Rather, we’re asked to believe that the Divines were actually teaching the preserving of the general equity of capital punishment by applying the death penalty to ecclesiastical excommunication!
Clearly, the prima facie rendering of 19.4 and the associated proof-texts don’t support such a fanciful interpretation. (Genesis 49:10; 1 Peter 2:13-14) These verses have nothing to do with church discipline but rather everything to do with civil magistrates.
The OT reference pertains to the scepter not departing from Judah along with the future obedient allegiance of the peoples. Whereas the NT reference pertains to a secular punishing of evil doers, not ecclesiastical censure of professing believers!
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and to him shall the gathering of the people be. Genesis 49:10
Submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake; whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that to well. 1 Peter 2:13-14
The way in which modern day R2Kers interpret the preserving of the general equity of the law cashes out not as preserving the general equity of the law but an utter obliteration of it.
Not to belabor the point but given this pervasive perversion of 19.4, probably more should be said:
There was excommunication under the older economy, a “cutting off” as it were (an exile of sorts), which was not accompanied by OT execution. Yet in God’s wisdom both were operative, presumably with distinct purposes. Accordingly, it seems a bit dubious that excommunication is equitable to execution. Moreover, it is simply fallacious to argue for a repeal of directives that pertain to the state from directives that pertain to the church. Yet we are asked to believe that OT capital punishment for wrongdoers is equitable to and swallowed up by excommunication. What then is the general equity for capital punishment for those already outside the church and, therefore, cannot be excommunicated, non-ecclesiastical warning? Moreover, what is the general equity of OT civil sanctions for the Christian who warrants a lesser penalty than death, ecclesiastical admonishment?
It’s not just arbitrary, it’s simply silly to think with the expiration of Israel’s theocracy that the Divines actually thought the wisdom of the civil law was no longer to resemble the original penal sanctions in their general equity, while also maintaining that the civil law is perpetually binding in its general equity! The linguistic gymnastics is astounding.
Let’s not force the Divines into contradiction. Excommunication and capital punishment aren’t close sisters. They’re not even distant cousins. To see how distantly disanalogous they are, one need only consider that repentance lifts the penalty of excommunication, which was not the case for capital crimes under the older economy.
Consider the following R2K attempt to reduce Westminster civil ethics to absurdity:
Actually, Algebra teachers do know without discursive reasoning that truth in general and the intelligibility of algebraic truth in particular presupposes God. (Developing this apologetic insight, especially as it relates to the moral pressure of not thinking false thoughts, extends beyond the scope of this article.) Moreover, Algebra teachers are also held accountable for suppressing God in the classroom by not taking every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5b)
But aside from the implicit and rampant Thomism of the day that misunderstands the epistemological underpinnings, limitations and implications of natural law and natural theology, it’s hardly controversial, nor terribly relevant, that one can possess warrant for belief x while not being able to offer it. After all, even if one can know something apart from being able to offer warrant for her true-belief (epistemological externalism), why is the ability to offer internalist epistemic justification somehow superfluous, let alone forbidden?! Are beliefs that are not self-consciously justified always as defensible as those that are self-consciously justified? Is the ability to justify civil laws from special revelation morally and functionally irrelevant? Why should we accept that self-conscious epistemological justification that comes from (propositional) special revelation lends no force to the justification of penal sanctions, or that such revelation is implicitly forbidden by God to be invoked in “earthly kingdom” discourse?
Regarding manslaughter and murder, a significant reason why man is to be held responsible by civil magistrates to honor and protect human life is because man is uniquely created in God’s image. (Genesis 9:6) Yet defiantly, R2Kers have dismissed this OTrevelatory justification for “harsher penalties” as an irrelevant divine tidbit that is implicitly forbidden to be invoked in the earthly kingdom. Although all men everywhere know in conscience something of the dignity of human life, natural law doesn’t reveal that humans are God’s image bearers. Accordingly, why shouldn’t unbelievers be instructed in the Scriptures according to a fundamental reason why capital punishment is required by God? In other words, apart from invoking Scripture’s teaching on the dignity and relevance of the imago Dei as it relates to capital punishment, what is the natural theological basis for execution? Was Natural Law sufficient for Moses? What’s easier to interpret, discuss and debate, the propositions of Special Revelation or General Revelation, (Systematic Theology or Natural Theology)?
Here’s the crux:
R2K reasoning leaps from the premise that (a) people know things they aren’t prepared to justifyto the grand implication that (b) offering a robust justification for beliefs is of little use if only we can muddle through without having to give one! In other words, R2Kers confound (c) the common grace ability of societies to “function” (no matter how badly) according to a subjective standard of “good enough” with (d) the ethical question of whether there is a moral imperative to apply the objective standard of Scripture to society whenever possible. (In passing, we might consider how well societies are doing with the R2K ethicist’s hope that “the elected official may understand that human life should be protected…”)
One more for the road. Now fasten your seatbelts!
No, you are not losing your mind!
Apparently Christians may not protest unjust laws that persecute Christians because our kingdom is not of this world. Is campaigning for a particular political candidate who embraces Christian values permissible? Or, is that too close to mentioning justice while forming an unservile political action committee? Does this professor ever try to vote a candidate out of office, or is that to disobey political status quo that is established by God? Oh, and Nero cannot break God’s law because he gets to submit to himself?! The logical trajectory of a position can often be its best refutation, as in this case.
Common misguided arrows about Westminster Civil Ethic:
Westminster civil ethics are not eschatologically dependent. Which is to say, a doom and gloom amillennialist can hold to a Westminster civil ethic because the question turns not on how things might end up but on how things ought to be.
Contrariwise, a postmillennialist can believe that we are to be governed by solely natural law in the civil realm.
Westminster civil ethics are not inexorably tied to cultural transformation. Which is to say, one can believe that such civil laws will never possibly be legislated until the church first believes that they should. And even then, there’s always the eschatological question of future Christian influence in society.
To argue against Westminster civil ethics because Federal Visionists hold to it is about as reasonable as arguing against Trinitarianism because because Federal Visionists hold to it. Yet that’s how certain well known “historians” argue.
That Muslims might want to see the world oppressively governed by the Koran is irrelevant to whether God’s people should desire that the general equity of God’s civil laws be legislated lawfully and not by force.
Capital punishment is not contrary to the Great Commission, for anyone on death row should be pleaded with to turn from their sins and receive Christ as he is offered in the gospel.
That some Christians find the prospect of certain civil sanctions repulsive for today raises the question of whether these same Christians would have delighted in such laws had they lived under Moses. It seems to me that Christians who mock the notion of such laws for today have shown themselves incapable of contemplating the intrinsic wisdom and goodness of such laws prior to the cross. Their disdain is trans-testament.
There will always be additional theological, philosophical and confessional arguments that can be levied against the proffered position. I do hope, however, that I have addressed at least minimally the more common ones.
Full circle, how might one go about justifying whether a convicted kidnapper who violates the imago Dei should be punished? Secondly, what is the “natural theology” consensus for the penal sanction, assuming there should even be a penalty?
As I’ve argued on the subject of the Christian Sabbath, if one wants to deny Westminster’s civil ethic, then by all means do so yet without claiming the imprimatur of the Westminster Divines.
In closing, let’s hear from some opponents to Westminster civil ethics who at least acknowledged the Divines’ civil ethic.
*Footnote for the hazardous appeal to Romans 13 to argue R2K from silence:
Mark 10:17-18: When a rich young ruler called Jesus good, he neither affirmed nor denied that he possessed that quality of person but instead said nobody is good but God. Depending upon one’s pre-commitment it might be inferred that Jesus was not good and, therefore, not God; yet the text neither affirms nor denies either conclusion.
Acts 1:6, 7: When the apostles asked Jesus whether he was at that time going to restore the kingdom to Israel, he neither affirmed nor denied such an intention but instead said that it was not for them to know the times or epochs that the Father has fixed by his own authority. Dispensationalists, given their pre-commitment to a restored national Israel, infer from the answer a confirmation of their theology, that the kingdom will be restored. Notwithstanding, no logical conclusion can be deduced from the text with respect to the restoration Israel’s kingdom.
John 21:20-22: When Peter asked Jesus whether John would be alive at the time of Jesus’ return Jesus told him that if he wanted John to remain until such time it was no business of Peter’s. Jesus then put to Peter his task, which was to follow Jesus. Jesus’ answer did not logically imply that John would remain or not, let alone whether Jesus would even return one day! The answer even caused a rumor among the brethren that John would not die (John 21:23). John in this very epistle (same verse: 23) remarked on the unjustified inference that caused the rumor: “Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’”
Links to quotes by David Van Drunen , Lane Tipton, Rick Phillips and Darryl Hart
My father grew up in the borough of Brooklyn, in a neighborhood just north of “Bed-Stuy” called Williamsburg. Those familiar with the district know that in the early 1900s with the completion of the bridge that bears the neighborhood’s name, Hasidic Jews from the “Lower east Side” began populating the community along with other immigrants like my Italian grandparents and great grandmother. Eventually, Williamsburg became the most populated neighborhood in the United States.
As a boy, my father could earn a penny on Saturdays from any number of Hasidic Jews for turning on a light in an apartment or hallway. (To put things in perspective, when my father was eight years old the Williamsburg Houses initially tenanted for just under two dollars per week for a single room. A busy Saturday of flipping switches could earn a day’s rent!)
Without getting into possible Jewish rationale for such a seemingly pedantic Shabbat restriction – whether it be tied to kindling a flame, creating something new, or just mere tradition – it’s not hard to discern a legalistic and hypocritical Jewish mindset.
First, let’s dispel a common sentiment. Legalism is not tied to obedience, lest Jesus was legalistic. No, legalism pertains to trying to earn that which can only be received by grace. Legalism also pertains to finding loopholes in order to “obey” or not “disobey” by way of technicality. It is the second kind of legalism that I have in mind.
The Williamsburg Jews got the electricity turned on without themselves flipping the switch. And how did they do that? Well, they paid someone else to break their law for them. So, technically speaking, they didn’t break the letter of the law; they got someone else to break their law for them, hence the legalism.
Their hypocrisy is due to believing they were more obedient than my father because they would never do what he had done for money. Their money!
The point is not that certain Hasidic Jews believed wrongly they may not turn on electricity on the last day of the week. In other words, whether their law was according to God’s word misses the point. The point is these Jews were all too willing to violate their own personal moral convictions by paying someone else to do what they believed was forbidden by God. I trust that’s obvious,
Now let’s play with some analogies:
The legalistic hypocrisy is glaring. Obviously, we see the absurdity.
Now for a blind spot to something no less obvious:
Most elders in the Reformed tradition take exception to the Reformed view of Christian Sabbath recreation as taught in the Westminster standards. As unfortunate as that is, many among that number go even further by supporting going to restaurants and ordering out food on Sundays, which pertains not merely to the question of rest vs. recreation but to unlawful work on the Lord’s Day. Ironically, most elders would say they affirm the Confession’s Christian Sabbath position with respect to work; yet their views on transacting business with restaurants on the Lord’s Day end up contradicting their own theology and professed scruples.
One more absurd analogy to drive the point home:
Do we see that absurdity as clearly as all the others? Or is it a tenable biblical position that on Sundays, other than performing works of necessity and mercy, I may not work but may instead pay someone else to serve me? In other words, as long as I am not the line chef, the server, the bartender or the delivery person who works Sundays, I have not broken the moral law. Now, how’s that not legalistic-hypocrisy?
Bobbin’ N Weavin’:
This is usually where people begin to raise objections like, what’s the difference between cooking for yourself or family, and a restaurant doing it for you? There are simple answers that relate to binary considerations pertaining to commerce and what entails “work” but such principles will fail to persuade Pharisaical types that strain to find loopholes to justify old habits, acts of convenience and mere preference. A staunch pre-commitment to seeking one’s own pleasures on Sundays is not easily overcome, though with God all things are possible.
Some things just need to be said sometimes:
Is it not incongruous, while praying over a meal at a restaurant, to give thanks to God for those who break His commandment so that we might be fed? That would give fresh meaning to, please bless the loving hands who prepared this meal.
To cloak or defend sin by claiming liberty of conscience is not Christian but antinomian.
There’s a vast difference between exercising liberty of conscience and operating according to an uninformed or seared conscience.
To be faithful in upholding the Confession that reflects biblical precepts is not legalism; nor is it to try to steal another Christian’s joy.
It is not to have scruples against working on Sundays (other than out of necessity and mercy), if we are willing to allow others to work for us on the Lord’s Day.
Going to restaurants and ordering out food on Sundays is not analogous to hiring someone who might end up choosing to use honest pay for improper use. Rather, it’s a matter of directly paying someone to do something forbidden in God’s word so that we might receive some perceived benefit or immediate gratification.
Regarding the claim that on Sundays unbelievers may work for Christians because they are not obligated to keep the Christian sabbath, which is a creation ordinance, then do consider:
WLC #99: That which is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.
Exodus XX.10: but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant oryour cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
Regarding the claim that the principle of Isaiah 58:13-14 pertains only to resisting commerce, should we thereby presume that the blessing to our offspring might be received if we would only turn in faith from the pleasures of commerce toward the pleasures of recreation instead? In other words, does God’s moral law protect us from work on the Sabbath in order that we might indulge ourselves in recreation and entertainment after Sunday worship? Is that what it means to call the Sabbath a delight? (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Surely it’s a good and necessary inference from Scripture that believers are not to be the proximate cause or direct occasion for someone to violate a creation ordinance in this way. Accordingly, exploiting restaurant workers is not a matter of subjective sabbath application that’s up for grabs but a matter of objective obedience that must be grasped.
But aside from biblical and confessional arguments, another plea is in order. A plea for integrity:
Dear NAPARC Elders,
Don’t keep the Sabbath if you think you needn’t; just don’t flaunt it, let alone teach contrary to the standards that your fellow elders have sworn before God to uphold. For isn’t it divisive to undermine even a portion of the system of doctrine contained in the standards, let alone defend it with an appeal to liberty of conscience? Stated differences and exceptions, even of a majority, may not bind the consciences, nor silence the voices, of those who subscribe to the doctrine of their church and denomination. Accordingly, is it not to sow discord and disrupt the peace and unity of the church to lead others contrary to the church’s confession and in opposition to what others have vowed to uphold?
Therefore, as a fellow elder, I plead with you to repent, not from stated differences or exceptions, but from teaching, flaunting or leading contrary to the standards of your church and denomination; for in promoting strange doctrine you hinder those charged before God to teach peaceably what you deny in faith and practice. If you feel bound by conscience to teach contrary to your own confession of faith, then please seek to get the standards changed through the courts of the church, or else leave your NAPARC church rather than cause division in her ranks.
Links to rejoinders and a word about seeds of apostasy:
For those who have been misled by shepherds who have falsely promulgated that unbelievers may work on Sundays while correctly maintaining that believers may not, I offer this critique of Lee Irons’ denial of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s position on the Christian Sabbath.
For those who have been misled by fallacious appeals to historical church figures and engage in revisionism on this issue, I offer this critique of RC. Sproul’s denial of the Westminster Confession of Faith’s position on the Christian Sabbath.
For those who think there are various Reformed views on the sabbath, I offer this.
For those who think that Reformed doctrine can be defined by particular Reformed theologians, I offer this.
Regarding seeds of apostasy and congregant responsibility, I offer this exhortation.
Here is a Sunday school class on Regulative Principal of Worship and Sabbath Day.
Again, a staunch pre-commitment to seeking one’s own pleasures on Sundays is not easily overcome, though with God all things are possible.
We synthesize particular biblical principles in order to compose theology that is biblical, practical and compassionate.
Under the gospel of Christ there exist two permissible reasons for divorce: adultery and willful desertion. (Matt.19:8,9; 1 Cor. 7:15)
Elders often have to judge whether certain acts of the flesh constitute adultery. Elders also have to decide whether certain patterns of life constitute willful desertion. This entry is concerned with the latter provision for dissolving the marriage contract, along with proper ecclesiastical oversight regarding the willful desertion provision.
Whenever a believer is loosed from the marriage bonds due to an unbeliever’s willful desertion, the believer is free to remarry even though the guilty party is beyond the pale of ecclesiastical censure by already being an unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 7:15)
In cases where both parties are regarded as believers, the only provision for divorce and remarriage is adultery. Mathew 5:32 enforces the point by teaching that if one divorces his wife for any reason other than fornication, the husband in such cases causes his wife to commit adultery. Furthermore, even the innocent woman’s future husband commits adultery by marrying her. In other words, under such circumstances not only is the husband culpable for his wife’s sin of adultery; the innocent spouse is not permitted to remarry, lest she commits adultery along with her future husband. Notwithstanding, there is good and affable news for the innocent spouse, if only sessions would do their job.
One may not divorce or remarry under the willful desertion clause as long as both parties are to be regarded as Christians by the church. Yet, if a professing Christian willfully deserts his spouse without cause in the face of Matthew 18 confrontation – then the deserting spouse should be declared an unbeliever. In such cases, the grounds for divorce would not be unbelief but rather willful desertion accompanied by ecclesiastical censure and unbelief. (1 Cor. 7:15). In other words, a believer may not divorce his spouse solely for the sin of unbelief since Scripture requires a believer to dwell with his unbelieving spouse as long as she desires to remain married. (1 Cor. 7:12-13). Nor may a believer divorce and remarry if deserted by a believer (i.e., one in good standing in the church). Rather, (aside from cases of adultery), a believer may only divorce and remarry if deserted by an unbeliever. The theological takeaway is that both conditions of (a) willful desertion and (b) status of unbeliever must be met for there to be biblical divorce and remarriage under the desertion clause.
Pervasive problem in the church:
It has become increasingly prevalent in the Reformed church today to condone divorce between professing Christians for emotional abandonment, in particularly verbal abuse. (This article does not address biblical fenceposts for such thinking. It recognizes there is biblical latitude and seeks to synthesize biblical principles in order to provide a coherent theological paradigm from which sessions might operate.)
When it is deemed by the courts of the church that a pattern of spousal abuse is tantamount to willful desertion, the guilty party should be censured to the utmost degree yielding a status of unbeliever. Only at which point may a professing believer be loosed from the marriage because now an unbeliever has departed. (Please internalize that point before reading further.)
Unfortunately, that is not what we always see, even within churches that practice discipline. Instead, we too often find an unbiblical accommodation for the offended party (assume the wife hereafter) who has suffered under emotional turmoil, which ironically can turn into a situation in which shedeserts her husband without cause. (More on that later.)
We also observe instances in which the wife is not granted the ecclesiastical backing of the church that would rightly vindicate her and pave the way for a biblical release from the bonds of marriage.
In other words, one of two unbiblical accounts too often occurs. Either the suffering wife is granted at least tacit approval for divorce, yet without it having been deemed that her husband sinned enough to be excommunicated. Or else, approval for divorce is granted without her guilty husband having been excommunicated. In the first instance the abused wife is denied both the testing and privilege of sanctifying suffering; whereas under the second scenario the innocent wife is denied the peace the church was to have aided her in obtaining by ministering and declaring in Christ’s name that her unbelieving husband had willfully deserted her, and she is now loosed from the marriage.
No husband is to be considered having willfully deserted his wife to the degree in which his spouse may be loosed until there is such “willful desertion as can in no way be remedied by the Church, or civil magistrate” (WCF 24.6) In other words, whether willful desertion comes in the form of emotional or physical abandonment, a valid certificate of divorce presupposes the dissuasion of ecclesiastical and civil authorities has come to naught. Consequently, willful desertion that is sufficient for biblical divorce presupposes that one has already been officially declared outside the church, for how is it possible that one within the church – a Christian(!), can be beyond remedy?
In summary, it stands to reason that if the husband may not be constituted an unbeliever, then he has not yet willfully deserted his wife – in which case the wife has no biblical grounds for divorce. Yet if the wife has biblical grounds for divorce, then her unbelieving spouse has deserted her.
It is conceivable that if a spouse commits adultery and later repents, it can be biblically consistent for the innocent party to “sue out” divorce without an accompanying pronouncement of unbelief upon the spouse. The reason being, adultery is sufficient to file for biblical divorce, and repentance is sufficient to regain one’s standing in the church. Accordingly, one can truly repent prior to being excommunicated; yet notwithstanding the transgression allows the innocent party to sue out divorce “as if the offending party was dead”. (WCF 24.5)
A solution to no-fault divorce:
In cases alleging desertion, Sessions frequently condone divorces without sussing out the guilty party and sanctioning accordingly. Elders often excuse their neglect for reasons such as: (a) too few elders, (b) not knowing the circumstances of marriages in turmoil, and (c) “discipline won’t do any good”. Such excuses obviously have no place in the church, though they are commonly held among elders.
Admittedly, in desertion cases it is more convenient for sessions to vacate responsibility than adjudicate. Notwithstanding, sessions must function as courts of Jesus Christ. Sessions don’t have the luxury to close a blind eye to divorce in the church. Such dereliction of duty must stop. By heeding the call to exercise the keys of the kingdom, some professing believers will be excommunicated for not striving longer with their spouses; whereas others will be vindicated and loosed from their marriages as spouses are censured for willful desertion without cause.
Having to pronounce discipline forces sessions to abandon a de facto policy of no-fault divorce. Instead of abdicating its responsibility, sessions are to extend pastoral care. Here are a few things sessions are to do: (a) not leave divorce cases to the private judgment of individuals; (b) determine whether abused spouses have biblical grounds for a divorce; (c) excommunicate those judged guilty of emotional abuse tantamount to willful desertion; and (d) not tacitly approve divorce for those who have been abused to some extent short of that which warrants excommunication of a spouse; and (e) discipline wounded spouses who continue headstrong into divorce without biblical cause and against session approval.
A case study of Bill’s abuse of Sally:
There is an instance of unbiblical accommodation in prematurely approving Sally’s divorce without having adjudicated her case. Such accommodation can ironically end in Sally’s desertion of Bill.
When a session neglects its pastoral duty by not issuing warnings against willful desertion to women like Sally when Bill is not censurable, such women either are denied (a) the gift of sharing in Christ’s sufferings through perseverance, or else (b) seeing the manifestation of their own unbelief in the abandonment of the marriage in the face of ecclesiastical warnings not to pursue divorce. In other words, if Bill does not deserve to be censured for willful desertion, then Sally must be shepherded to a volitional crossroad of either (a) taking up her cross or (b) faithlessness.
In the final analyses, the Westminster standards teach that the only non-adultery grounds for Sally to divorce Bill entails that Bill is beyond remedy, which is not to be regarded as true as long as Bill is called a brother, believed to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, receiving the word of God if not also the sacraments. If Bill is a church member in good standing and receiving the means of grace, then he is not “beyond remedy”, which means that Bill may not be regarded has having willfully deserted Sally. Consequently, Sally has no biblical grounds for divorce. Yet if Sally divorces under such circumstances, then it is she who has abandoned her husband. But if Sally truly has grounds for divorce, then Bill must be censured for willful desertion both for Sally’s vindication and the glory of God.
A charge to elders and sessions:
The only question now is whether ordained servants will be faithful to their ordination vows and challenge head-on those who willfully desert their spouse or pursue unbiblical divorce. Marriages are at stake and children are needlessly being torn from parents in the aftermath of divorce due to pastoral neglect. Let’s not allow our Calvinism cause us to deny that many marriages would not have ended in unbiblical divorce if elders had lovingly, yet methodically, explained the principles of marriage, divorce and church discipline to married couples on the brink of divorce.
Indeed, God-appoints difficult providences for all who are in union with Christ, but we must expect God’s grace to be sufficient for all his people to keep the marriage vow of “for better or for worse” unless one of two exception clauses can be met (adultery or willful desertion). Elders are to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. They are to love their flock according to understanding, which means they are to encourage the sheep under their care in the life of the cross to which we all are appointed. Elders must come along suffering spouses – labor with them indeed, yet censure those who willfully desert their spouses or pursue unbiblical divorce with a high-hand.
Let’s pray together for Christian marriages and that ordained servants might be faithful to their vows.
Although all men know by nature that homosexuality is sin, it’s only through Scripture that one can adequately defend the claim. (Natural theology types are free to try sometime.)
Since most people are autonomous in their thinking it’s understandable why most cannot justify with any consistency (and without avoiding arbitrariness) the claim that homosexuality is morally wrong. (Again, natural theology types are free to try sometime.)
Although many straight people still find homosexuality unnatural – unnatural does not imply moral deviance. Even the claim that something is unnatural presupposes a network of beliefs about reality, truth, and ethical standards that cannot adequately be justified apart from Scripture. Whether homosexuality is sin is indeed a worldview question.
Sure, in general revelation there is natural law that pronounces guilt for sin upon all mankind, including guilt for homosexuality. Notwithstanding, natural law can grow increasingly dim in the minds of the ungodly. Yet even when natural law was shining more brightly upon social conscience, it was never to be interpreted apart from special revelation. With the rejection of the Bible, mankind is left to grope in darkness but not in search for moral standards – rather for moral standards that are philosophically defensible in the context of a larger worldview context that should be consistent, coherent and explanatory. On the authority of God’s word, we know it cannot successfully be done, which has been corroborated and verified since the time of creation.
Accordingly, two unhappy alternatives:
Apart from viewing homosexuality through the lens of Scripture, one is left with two unhappy alternatives: (i) a bigoted rejection of homosexuality or else (ii) condoning what is known in conscience to be morally deviant. In other words, apart from Scripture one either can judge correctly yet for sinful reasons, or else violate conscience (and live in moral conflict) by condoning in the name of love, no less, that which is an abomination in God’s sight.
Regarding natural theology, the church needs to wake-up from its Thomistic slumbers and distinguish (i) the universal knowledge of sin through natural law from (ii) the sole basis by which we might adequately defend the possibility of such knowledge. The former pertains to knowledge that permeates all moral creatures regardless of one’s worldview; whereas the latter relates to an epistemological defense that is unique to the Christian worldview. Without God’s word as the foundation for the only worldview that can reconcile moral absolutes with life experience, in whose name might we dare judge any behavior as sinful?!
In order to avoid imposing personal preference upon others, one is left to condone a practice that is contrary to God’s word. In other words, the “open minded” (to everything but God’s word, that is), if they’re to remain free from such bigotry, are constrained to not object to deviant behavior, “for who are we to judge?” Without God’s word, through the illumination of the Spirit, confirming to us that which we indeed know by nature to be sin, our beliefs would be reduced to subjective doubt and philosophical skepticism. Indeed, apart from the propositional revelation contained in Scripture we cannot adequately justify the knowledge we have, at least in any robust philosophical sense, that there even is such a thing as natural law. If that is not true, then God has not made foolish the wisdom of this world. (Again, natural theology types are free to try sometime.)
An insurmountable natural theology conundrum is that apart from special revelation we’re consigned to non-authoritative personal preference, even though the Spirit unambiguously and universally testifies that homosexuality is sin. Perhaps the biggest irony in all of this is that without God’s word, ultimate autonomous virtue leads to defending deviant behavior against conscience. That’s where the world lives today. It doesn’t have a good enough reason to condemn sinful practice without being bigoted, so the world defends what God condemns.
In sum, apart from Scripture one is left either to go along with ungodly behavior to avoid personal prejudicial preference, or else undergo the conflicting guilt that comes with arbitrarily disapproving of a practice that is known to be morally wrong. At the end of the day, the Christian’s righteous disapproval of ungodly behavior is not available to us apart from values informed by Scripture and no amount of natural law can get us out of that Thomistic, humanistic predicament. No amount or natural law can get us to a defensible natural theology of sin. We must distinguish knowledge from the justification of the possibility of knowledge.
Yet Christians can rejoice in at least this: God is not mocked; the fool is confounded once again.
Many Reformed churches have progressed from (i) a lack of theological nuance to (ii) a disregard for doctrinal distinction to (ii) an actual repudiation of Reformed theology. It’s no longer that Reformed pulpits and sessions are merely being manned by elders who aren’t theologically keen, which eventually gave way to a general sense, if not firm philosophical conviction, that theological precision and confessional fidelity no longer matters. Today we are witnessing a third stage of downgrade in Reformed pulpits and sessions (and consequently our churches’ pews). We are seeing an outright repudiation of Reformed theology from within. With an insidious air of orthodoxy to accompany it, which lends an element of credence to the less discerning, we gradually slouch further toward Arminianism, Romanism and Secularism.
Even the unqualified want to feel good about themselves:
Nobody enjoys living in tension, especially tension that exposes oneself as not gifted or just plain lazy. So, given a lack of theological understanding, we can see how one might adopt a mindset of Reformed theology doesn’t matter. Such a mentality protects the less gifted and the lazy from self-consciously accepting that they’re not well prepared to articulate, teach and defend the deposit of the Reformed faith. A more suitable alternative would be for the less gifted to remain humble and keep striving, and the lazy to apply themselves better, or else just step-aside. Unfortunately, a more honorable approach has not always been taken by too many. Instead, what we have found in the past several years is a return to pre-Reformation theology, which in the end cashes out as a rejection of the fullness and richness of Biblical Systematic Theology in light of the comparatively unsystematized and unsophisticated medieval and early church theology.
Knowing about the Reformation vs knowing the theology of the Reformation:
This is not surprising once we consider that the formal teaching of Systematic Theology has at many seminaries been relegated to history types rather than to analytical thinkers. This phenomenon has opened the door to subjective and more novel takes on settled theological matters of serious intricacy. The debates of the Reformation period have taken priority over the theology of the debates. Possessing vast acquaintance with multiple sides of any doctrinal dispute has become more academically impressive than possessing an intimate working-understanding of which doctrines are theologically correct and why. Consequently, reinterpretation of Reformed confessional boundaries is now both unavoidable and permissible if only accompanied by a fragile appeal to the standards being a “consensus document” or a scattered few seventeenth century theologians who held esoteric views that did not win the confessional day. The kicker is, one can now earn an honorary degree of “Reformed orthodoxy” merely by possessing an air of historical understanding without actually subscribing to Reformed theology, let alone robustly subscribing.
We may not avoid hard thinking. It inevitably leads to heterodoxy:
As for the minimally Reformed, anyone can assert the Bible teaches both A and B. Yet it’s how we reconcile A with B that leads us to doctrines C, D, E and F. One pastor I recently spoke with from a conservative Reformed denomination was admittedly pleased to teach A and B discretely, yet without further reflection or perceived need to understand the further implications of A alongside B. With all sincerity this ordained servant did not see a moral or pastoral responsibility to systematize the discrete A, B, C’s of Reformed theology so that rudimentary principles of doctrine might not just be consistent with each other but also demonstrate a coherent systematic whole that is worldview explanatory and beyond refutation. This is the unhappy state of the Reformed church. A most serious dumbing down, as it were.
For example, I have found that too many seminary students, graduates and ordained servants within the Reformed tradition affirm the following points of theology (most of them unwittingly), which aren’t just theologically incorrect but directly impinge upon other foundational doctrines and philosophical considerations to the right of the dash (–). The list below overlaps yet doesn’t include doctrinal confusion cited here.
Hypothetical Universalism – The gospel and God’s numerically one undivided will
Libertarian Calvinism – God’s aseity, independence, unique eternality and exhaustive omniscience; moral accountability; compatibilism vs incompatibilism
Egalitarianism – Ministry of God’s Word; Equality vs Sameness; merely arbitrary vs naturally fitting gender functions that transcend church and family
Radical 2 Kingdom – Corruption of the Spirituality of the Church and the crown rights of King Jesus
Limited view of the Fall and Total Depravity – Roman Catholic nature-grace dualism; Pelagian tendencies; Concupiscence; Apologetic methodology; Natural Theology; Seeker sensitivity and worship practice
Peccability of Christ – Hypostatic Union and Nestorianism; Narrowly Logical vs Metaphysical modalities
Those are just a mere smattering of false doctrine (and doctrines they impinge upon) held by Reformed servants, and often times they don’t even know it.
Suffice to say, it should be obvious; this is no small matter. A growing number of pulpits and sessions are at least partially manned by men who are comparative liberals relative to Puritans and Continentalists. Yet in the context of a distinctly pre-Reformation theology, these false teachings are now all in play.
A proposed preventative prescription:
To look for deep theology prior to the Reformation era is like seeking to nourish oneself from dumpsters behind fine food restaurants in the hope of finding some tasty morsel that is not on the menu. Obviously, it’s madness. Clearly, there’s much on the Reformed menu that does not entice.
Those with an insatiable appetite for pre-Reformation theology should at least put forth what they believe is lacking in Reformed theology, which by Reformed standards swallowed up any and all orthodoxy prior to the Reformation in toto! Until such time, one is wise to consider the patristic and medieval fad-rage a smokescreen for a multifaceted agenda that is just beginning to take form.
As a path forward, the new wave of Trinitarian theologians, who think they’ve unearthed some non-Reformed yet orthodox doctrine of God, should be scrutinized and held accountable to a deep confessional systematic theology that should be able to be articulated, taught and defended against the onslaught of doctrinal impurity from outside the Reformed tradition, to the end that Jesus’ sheep might be nourished by the pure milk of God’s word, if not unto meat.
The post above was the third of three on the general matter of theological infidelity in the Reformed tradition of the church. For parts 1 and 2. The culmination in more detail can be found here.
Our acts are free, though triggered by intentions that are caused according to God’s sovereign determination of the relationship between prior states of affairs and our intentions to act. Moreover, we approve of our intentions that cannot be other than what they will be.
Like us, God approves of his intentions and cannot act contrary to them. Yet, unlike us, God is most free, at least because his acts proceed from intentions that are not the effect of preceding states of affairs. So, unlike us, God is ultimate sourcehood and can do anything he can possibly desire.
There is no time in eternity, but even if time were uncreated, there could not have been enough time to have sequentially chosen a decree according to an intention that was chosen according to a previous intention ad infinitum. No, the divine intention is eternal, and a chosen intention is unintelligible.
Unsatisfactory objections with no solution:
With respect to Richard Muller and others, the world from an Edwardsian perspective is not (from itself) necessary but given the eternal decree, it is not narrowly-logically necessary but causally necessary being secured by the divine intention. Notwithstanding, creation itself isn’t essential to God, for creation is not a property of God, and God existed without creation. Should we find it strange that God cannot exist without some eternal intention to create or not create? Can God have no intention, even an intention not to have an intention? Surely God must exist with an intention he never did not have. That’s just built into God being God! Notwithstanding, that which God’s free intention contemplates is not a cause that acts upon God or his intention.
Room for freedom:
In conditional (Classical Compatiblist) terms, God could have not created this world had he so willed. Or, rather than contemplate hypotheticals that change a fixed future by altering the past, we might contemplate a different future that would entail a different past: Had God not created this world, he would have intended not to create. Either way, God’s intentions and acts are most free and agreeable to God according to a “mesh” of undivided will.
What’s the alternative, (i) a non-eternal intention? (ii) An eternally chosen contingent-intention (according to an eternally chosen or unchosen intention)? (iii) An eternal yet metaphysically contingent intention? But how does (iii) not make creation and God’s eternal will contingent, which is bound to lead back to (ii).
Impassibility of the contrary?
If nothing outside God acts upon God resulting in an intention to create, then God’s ultimate freedom to create is intact. That said, what’s the problem with Edwards on the necessity of the divine decree? What does the charge against Edwards even mean, that God is not most free unless another eternal intention could have been formed in God contrary to the eternal intention God eternally approved of for himself? Again, what’s the alternative to such freedom? If libertarian freedom is a philosophical surd, then how can God be libertarian-free and not free in an Edwardsian sense? That God’s act of creation was a free act does not imply that God did not have to create. After all, even our free acts don’t imply ability to act contrary. God determines all free acts, even his own, which are ultimately sourced in him alone.
As we teach our children, God can do all his holy will. (WSC 13)
I’m a bit surprised that some OPC Pastors and Ruling Elders are eager to maintain that the OPC did not prematurely acknowledge guilt at their 88th General Assembly.
“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly.”
An example of denying what was purported:
The disgust expressed was at the sin reported. The most serious allegation involved a heinous expression of racial contempt and disgust. We wished to express disgust at the mere mention of such a sin. We never said that we committed it and we never intended to stop investigating it, whatever the university did (I will not publicly criticize them in this matter). We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves and I believe that’s what we endeavored to do.
A prominent OPC man. (Bold emphasis mine.)
It’s one thing to be wise yet quite another thing to be crafty.
I’ll try to clear up some confusion surrounding the OPC’s premature acknowledgment of guilt, hopefully establishing, contrary to the thinking of a growing number, that (i) the acknowledgment of guilt did not pertain merely to the mention of the abstract possibility of sin having occurred, and (ii) these “reported” incidents were actually acknowledged as true, just as they were reported.
First, when behaving rationally, we don’t communicate “grief, sorrow, and disgust” over the mere possibility of incidents. No, we lament over incidents we have already judged true. After all, it is always possible that such incidents occur. Therefore, mere abstract possibility is never sufficient to articulate such feelings, at least when thinking clearly.
Imagine an accusation of murder or adultery against a loved one. I would not (nor could I!) emote “grief, sorrow and disgust” over such an accusation unless I thought it was actually true. What triggers a package of actual “grief, sorrow and disgust” is not abstract possibility but cognitiveconviction that certain supposed incidents reflect concreterealities. Actual lament presupposes actual acts, unless, of course, the lament (and communication of lament) is disingenuous.
A second point of confusion among several is in thinking that if “grief, sorrow, and disgust” are according to “reported” incidents, then “guilt…” could not have hastily been prejudged as true (on the basis of the incidents having been merely reported incidents). Well, whenever guilt is acknowledged, it is always according to a report (or testimony) of some sort having to do with past alleged incident(s). Consequently, it’s a downright matter of special pleading to suggest that reported incidents, even if not yet thoroughly investigated, cannot possibly be prematurely judged. After all, hasty verdicts are commonplace, not just in the world but sadly in the church too. Moreover, further investigation can occur even after a matter is prejudged, especially when cooler heads eventually prevail.
Again, the OPC’s statement:
The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly.”
The fact of the matter is, the incidents were unambiguously acknowledged as true, hence the measured communication of actual “grief, sorrow and disgust” over the reported incidents. Secondly, that the report was not thoroughly investigated does not imply that the OPC withheld judgment, or that the report was not prematurely acknowledged as true and guilt informally rendered. Rather, the carefully worded statement supports the fact that the report was indeed received as true, hence lament, yet without proper procedure in confirming the report’s truthfulness.
Borrowing heavily from the Westminster Larger Catechism, which OPC church officers have vowed to uphold, I submit that the premature acknowledgment of guilt was not promoting truth among men; nor speaking truth and only truth in matters of judgment. We are to strive for charitable esteem of our neighbors (even if they’re in the OPC!), and have an unwillingness to admit an evil report concerning them. In short, the statement passed unjust sentence – for even if the accusations are true, there was no basis to have received them as such.
To express “grief, sorrow and disgust” over sin that was reported while in the same breath saying the OPC was not admitting guilt that sin was actually committed is at best equivocal. I’ll merely say to that, the OPC’s standards also speak about equivocal language in light of the Ninth Commandment.
It would be egregious if the OPC offered a disingenuous apology in order not to be kicked out of Eastern. Yet some I’ve spoken with believe the motive to continue the GA may have been sufficient cause to give Eastern what they were perceived to have wanted yet without proof. But if the statement was not an intentional admission of guilt, then was it intended to mislead Eastern into thinking guilt was being acknowledged when it wasn’t? If not, then how did intelligent men carefully craft a calculated statement that communicated guilt without intending to do so?
In the final analysis, assuming I am to take the statement according to the plain meaning of words, the OPC seems to have cracked under pressure by formulating and approving such a statement that communicated guilt prematurely. Yet if it was not their intention to acknowledge guilt, then two unhappy alternatives are left – either willful deception or incomprehensible incompetence.
It’s unclear why the OPC offered a premature apology that is now not just being contested by some as a mistake but actually being denied as being the admission of guilt that it is! However, what is abundantly clear is that the OPC needs to come clean on a few things, including not correcting a leader’s misuse of Jesus’ words:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism is to be updated this fall for the “Totally Reformed” who actually believe in the appointment and engagement of Sessions, regional Presbyteries and General Assemblies to govern the church, even in cases alleging abuse.
This minority of churches, now called TR churches for short, are going to add one more question to the Shorter, making the child’s catechism a total of 108 questions. One TR pastor from Holland Michigan noted, “Although we realize it’s going to put additional strain on children memorizing the catechism and on homeschool moms and dads, we think it’s best for our children’s future.” It’s the hope of many that for Q&A #108 the OPC’s very own Tom Tyson might provide stick-figure illustrations of both Shorty and the team at the GRACE organization, which is representative of other abuse prevent organizations that function as provisional Presbyteries when called upon by the church at large.
The 2022 amendment to the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q 108: What does the movie Elf have in common with a growing number of NAPARC churches in 2020 through 2022?
A 108: The eagerness to abdicate responsibility.
An uncanny analogy:
Session: Okay, picture this: We bring in Miles Finch.
Pastor:The Miles Finch?
Session: The golden ghost. We bring him in. He’s written more classics than Dr. Seuss. It ain’t gonna be easy, but I think it’s worth a shot.
Pastor: My two top writers, my crack team, my fun squad… you came in here pitching me the idea of hiring another writer?
Session: Yeah, Miles Finch.
Pastor: I like it.
Let’s now get serious with some food for thought. If an abuse prevent organization is staffed by OPC Elders, would the organization be ill-qualified to investigate an OPC church? If not, then why abdicate outside the denomination? If yes, then what qualifies one to serve in such spiritual matters?
It’s staggering to consider how far a preponderance of NAPARC churches have drifted from Reformed confessional theology. If the shepherds won’t protect the sheep, the sheep better get better at protecting themselves.
Today’s obsession with egalitarianism, critical theories, and medieval philosophy by “historians” posing as philosophical theologians is more a result of confessional infidelity than a reason for it. In other words, when confessional theology doesn’t grab you, something else will. Something must fill the void. Like a vortex – enter Thomasts, Davenant Institute, Egalitarianism, Aimee Byrd, Diane Langberg and others. You can almost hear the sucking sound. Again, something must fill the void.
Unwittingly and to their surprise, the new breed of moderates are working on the same side of evangelicalism, the New Life church movement and other thin complementarians who are together dumbing down, diluting and denying the confessional faith and practice of NAPARC. “Really, Ron?” Well, you tell me. For instance, is today’s gospel more about healing broken relationships and making the abused whole, or is it more about vicarious penal substitution that exhausts the unmixed wrath of God so that sinners might find forgiveness and righteousness in Christ? How can we find so much in the text of Scripture that’s not actually in the text of Scripture, yet we can’t seem to find, or at least make application from, the cross of Christ? Is it because culture and social media is framing ministry rather than Word and Spirit working in and through broken vessels? Are church leaders leading the sheep or responding to felt needs and critical theories with a new social gospel? If shepherds are indeed shepherding, then ask yourself two questions – with what and toward what?
In no particular order, below are some of the more significant theological departures from NAPARC ordained servants. But first, as I stated in my previous post:
Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows… If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?
It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy.
Knowing full well that most congregants aren’t theological, let alone passionately so, I offer the following for prayerful reflection.
* By denying theological determinism, one loses claim on the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) God’s eternal decree; (ii) God’s aseity; (iii) God’s exhaustive omniscience; and that (iv) God is most free and absolute. That’s the theological implication of not internalizing and embracing WCF 3.2. Now that needs to be internalized!
* By denying the regulative principle of worship, one betrays the Reformed tradition as it relates to (i) upholding Christian liberty of conscience, (ii) maintaining wine at the Lord’s Supper, and (iii) forbidding women to pray and read Scripture during congregational worship services. (WCF 20:2, 21:3,5; 29:5; WLC 109)
* In cases of divorce, by not rendering ecclesiastical verdicts, including censuring the guilty and vindicating the innocent, no-fault divorce is condoned, which denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is not a matter of private judgement but requires public and orderly proceedings. It also denies the Reformed teaching that divorce is only lawful for adultery and willful desertion that is beyond the remedy of church and state. (WCF 24:6; 30:2)
* By affirming contemporary 2 Kingdom theology, the Reformed position on Christ’s kingly reign over all creation including all civil magistrates is denied. (WCF 19.4; WLC 108)
* By not “fencing the Table” from non-communing members of evangelical churches, the Reformed doctrine of the visible church is denied. (WCF 25:2,3; 26:2)
* By intimating that children of professing believers actually join the church upon profession of faith is to deny the Reformed doctrine of baptism and the visible church. (WCF 25:2; 28:1)
* By not disciplining delinquent church members who depart and don’t in due time join another evangelical church, the doctrine of the visible church is violated. Also, the solemnity of lawful oaths and vows are compromised. (WCF 22:3,5; 25:2)
* By condoning movies, books or nativities with images of Jesus, the Reformed teaching on the Second Commandment is denied. (WLC 109)
* By condoning going to restaurants on Sunday, even under pretense of unbelievers being permitted to work on Sunday, the Reformed teaching on the Fourth Commandment is denied. (WLC 99, 117)
Again, these departures do not bother the average congregant. I get that. But neither did they bother those who remained in the pews of the now apostate PCUSA, a denomination with less outward pomp and glory than Roman Catholicism, yet a synagogue of Satan just like her.
Are these seeds of apostasy or a just musings of a pedantic blogger?